Limits on, and of, Cloning

The reasons widely given for blocking experiments in human cloning make sense. The technology is still relatively primitive. And the ethical concerns raised by such procedures - not least the life prospects of any possible offspring - are formidable.

A number of European countries have already outlawed such experimentation. We back President Clinton's call for US legislation to stop human cloning enterprises such as that proposed by Chicago physicist Richard Seed.

But there's much more to this issue than technology or legislation. It forces a reexamination of the ancient question of man's uniqueness and inherent spirituality. If the individual man or woman is simply a more complicated amalgam of the same biological elements found in a sheep, what's to stop scientists from eventually engineering humans the way they do other organisms?

But the breadth of human experience - and most emphatically that experience called religious or spiritual - argues against such mechanistic conclusions. The very concept of cloning, in the sense of duplication, is defied by the processes of learning, spiritual awakening, and healing that shape and reshape human individuality.

Critics of human cloning have called it an attempt to "play God." But the defining ingredients of individuality are beyond laboratory manipulation. Discernment, thoughtfulness, courage, for example, are not chemical additives. In this sense, cloning's claims will always exceed its reach.

But it would be a mistake, in any case, to allow the door to swing open to a realm of experimentation that could exploit the hopes of some childless couples, stretch ethics to the breaking point, and devalue human nurture.

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